Once again I just read a classic and oft repeated forum debate on one of my favorite backpacker sites about whether to hang food, use bear canisters or chance it. I'm not going to give advice on how you should store your food, there are plenty of successful ideas floating around already on that. But one of the ideas often mentioned is that you can use odor proof bags to fool bears, so I thought I would tell a little story about my experiences with presumably odor proof items.
I trained search and rescue dogs for many years. In the process I gained a very healthy respect for what canines can smell. Bears and dogs do belong to separate families of course, but they are in the same order, Carnivora....thus I think you will find this story interesting if you are a backpacker in bear country.
In the group I volunteered with, California Rescue Dog Association, and at the time I was involved with CARDA, our certification was based on Swiss standards which were tops in the world . Our Search and Rescue dogs had to pass several very difficult tests depending on whether they were wilderness rescue dogs, disaster rescue dogs, cadaver dogs etc. My story is about my dog, Cali, and her "article search" test. Articles are a great way to track a lost person so search and rescue dogs are trained to let their handler know whenever an article is found in a search area.
|Cali and I getting instructions from the judge|
On the morning of our test, Cali and I were brought out to a 4 acre field and given the parameters of the field and were told to stay outside of the test area until given our official start, at which time I could send Cali into the field and direct her search efforts...I had to stay out of the search area at all times.
The articles Cali was to find consisted of 4 items. I would begin with a "hasty search" where I would send her in to the search area and with hand and voice signals would have her hastily search the field. When the hasty search was over, I would begin a "fine search" for whatever articles she had not yet found. I would again direct her with hand and voice signals to cover the entire field searching in a very close criss cross pattern.
In preparation for the test, noone had walked in this field for a specific amount of time. The articles were metal objects sterilized by boiling the night before and then dumped in ziploc baggies without being handled to prevent scent contamination. The morning of the test, the objects were thrown out into the field prior to our arrival, only being touched by either sterile surgical gloves or the baggies they were stored in. Cali had 15 minutes to find these 4 sterilized objects in the test field.
Standing outside the test area, I whispered in Cali's ear to "go search," and let her go. Cali seemed to float over the field she was so excited to be doing her job! She ran straight out to the end of the search area as I had directed her to "go out," and suddenly while running almost full speed, she turned on her haunches and sped to the right quickly grabbing the first item and running it back to me. Giving her a "Good Girl!" and a quick pat, I sent her back out again. This time as she again sped towards the back of the test area, and before reaching the back perimeter, she turned on her haunches once again...this time to the left...and ran straight to article number two and snagging it in her jaws, made a beeline back to me. After praising her highly and quickly...the clock was ticking...I sent her out again....this time she found articles three and four almost immediately and brought them both back to me. We never even got to show the judge what wonderful language we had together, that I could direct her left and right and closer and farther...as we never got to do our "fine search." Cali had found all four sterilized items in under four minutes!
Thus, as a result of my search and rescue days with Cali, when I am backpacking I know bears know I am there. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt bears know I have food...and can probably tell exactly what kind of food I have no matter how I try to disguise it. What I use to protect my food, and why I use what I use is another story I might tell another time. But in the meantime, just know...you can't fool mother nature! Or, at least you can't fool a bear!
|Search dogs on a 30 minute stay|
|When "off duty" Cali loved backpacking!|